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A dogged pursuit: Stephen, Minn. woman seeks help bringing in stray dog

STEPHEN, Minn.--Jane Smidt smiled when the shaggy black dog lifted a leg to do his business on a tree along a residential street in Stephen. "There's the leg lift," she said. "That's the first time I've ever seen that." The simple gesture told Sm...

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A stray dog that has eluded capture for several months in Stephen, Minn., pauses Monday while walking around a neighborhood. Photo by Brandi Jewett/Grand Forks Herald.

STEPHEN, Minn.-Jane Smidt smiled when the shaggy black dog lifted a leg to do his business on a tree along a residential street in Stephen.

"There's the leg lift," she said. "That's the first time I've ever seen that."

The simple gesture told Smidt, 66, the stray dog whose plight she's been agonizing over for months is male, a fact that until Monday remained a mystery thanks to the animal's long coat.

Gender is far from the last question Smidt has about the canine, but the most pressing one is: How can he be caught?

She and other residents of the nearly 700-person town have watched the large dog weave in and out of their yards since October. Several have pitched in to help feed the dog, but no one can seem to put a hand on him, including Smidt, who has attempted to approach him twice.


"When I wouldn't see him for long periods of time and then I'd see him, my first gut reaction was 'Thank God he's still alive,' " she said. "And then the other reaction would be doggone it, he hasn't been captured yet, he isn't getting checked out and adopted."

Seeking help

Smidt has written letters to the editor of local newspapers, gone to the Marshall County Sheriff's Office and spoken at Stephen City Council meetings about seeking help for the dog.

Marshall County Sheriff Jason Boman said the department is running out of options when it comes to catching the dog.

"We're trying to do it right. I know everybody likes that dog," he said. "I'd like to catch it and see what we can do. I don't want to kill it."

The department doesn't have live traps, and Boman said he worries those he's found online wouldn't be large enough for the dog.

To defray some of the costs of purchasing such a trap, Smidt held a fundraiser April 18 and received $384 in donations from community members who said they were concerned about the dog or the health risk he poses to others if he is sick.

A dog on its own that long likely has some health problems, said Dawn Williamson, director of the Pennington County Humane Society.


"Without a doubt, he's got parasites going," she said. "But without a veterinarian actually examining him, you can't tell that stuff just by looking."

Money left over from a potential live-trap purchase would be put toward the dog's care at an animal shelter if he is judged a good candidate to become a pet.

"If the dog was caught, we would certainly take him down here," Williamson said.

Scattered sightings

Over the past several months, the stray has earned a number of nicknames from residents, including Black Dog, Wolf Dog, Gypsy and Bear.

On Monday, Smidt called him Dodger Dog, referring to his elusive nature when it comes to capture attempts by residents and county law enforcement - including a failed attempt last week to tranquilize him with a dart.

Smidt first met the dog early one morning in October when she was bringing her own dog, a 12-year-old black Labrador named Jenny Louise - JLo for short - out for her morning bathroom break.

"Out in the street was that dog, coming out of the shadows and standing there ... My dog started barking at the stray dog," Smidt recalled. "It sort of stood there and let her bark at it and then went 'ruff' and was on its way."


Since their first encounter, Smidt has kept of log of the dog's appearances.

As of late, the dog usually ventures to the house of Stephen resident Brian Anderson for his morning and evening feedings. Anderson's driveway is where he was lying when Smidt spotted him Monday.

He trotted between houses and across backyards in an attempt to shake Smidt.

"He's a smart dog," she said as he ducked through a tree row dividing two yards.

Finding home

Theories abound on the dog's origins, with some residents saying he was left behind by roving sugar beet workers while others think he may be a lost pet a long way from home.

Smidt is less concerned about his past and more about his future.

One of her primary worries is the animal's health. The dog's long coat ensured he made it through the winter but also may be hiding something much worse. His fur is smattered with sticks and mats, and it obscures a view of his body and any outward signs of malnutrition.


"Is there a collar embedded down in there somewhere under all that hair? Mange? Ticks? A whole range of things?" she asked, adding the dog likely wasn't getting vaccinations.

Monday's sighting provided the best look Smidt has gotten at the dog.

"His right hip doesn't look too good," she said, watching the dog walk behind a home.

If captured and brought to an animal shelter, a veterinarian would evaluate the dog's behavior and treat him for conditions such as parasites. Williamson said a majority of stray dogs she sees come around with human contact.

"A lot of times with these feral dogs, they're just scared," Williamson said. "Once you catch them and give them a couple of days to settle down and get them into a routine, they turn out to be the nicest dogs."

How to get the dog to a shelter has yet to be determined. Smidt said she appreciates any advice or help people could give. She can be reached at 218-478-2456. Anyone with suggestions also can call the sheriff's office at 218-745-5411.

In the meantime, Smidt said she will keep working to bring the dog in and get him into a loving home.

"That's really what it comes down to," she said. "You can't really sleep at night until this is under control."


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